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Brown v. City of New Britain Board of Education

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New Britain, New Britain

October 1, 2015

Beverly Brown
v.
City of New Britain Board of Education

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (111.00)

James W. Abrams, Judge.

On June 24, 2011, the plaintiff, Beverly Brown, filed a five-count Complaint against her former employer, the City of New Britain Board of Education, stemming from her departure from her position as a science teacher at DiLoreto School. On October 22, 2014, the defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment directed at all five counts of the plaintiff's Complaint. The plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition dated March 18, 2015 and the matter was placed on the June 22, 2015 short calendar. The parties requested that the court consider the Motion without oral argument.

I

FACTS

The undisputed relevant facts are as follows: From September 2003 through June 22, 2009, the plaintiff was employed by the City of New Britain Board of Education. In September 2008, the plaintiff became the Middle School Team Leader and science lead teacher for the Middle School at DiLoreto School (" the school"). During the 2008-2009 academic year, the plaintiff made a series of complaints to the school administration about the lack of resources available to assist her in performing her duties. This period featured a number of events involving the plaintiff's employment status, including the following: 1) The plaintiff filed a complaint with the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (" OSHA") regarding the presence and storage of hydrochloric acid in her classroom; 2) The plaintiff sent a letter and a series of emails to the school administration detailing her concerns about the recent conversion of the school and the lack of resources and facilities available to her students; 3) The plaintiff was placed on administrative leave; and 4) The plaintiff resigned her position.

The plaintiff subsequently filed her Complaint in this matter, alleging constructive wrongful discharge pursuant to both § 31-51m of the Connecticut General Statutes based on her filing of the OSHA complaint and § 31-51q based on her exercise of her free speech rights under the United States and Connecticut Constitutions. She also filed counts sounding in breach of contract, slander, and libel, but indicated in her Memorandum that she does not intend on pursuing these claims.

II

DISCUSSION

The issue before the court is whether it should grant the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on one or more of the following grounds: (A) No genuine issue of material fact exists that the plaintiff voluntarily resigned her position and, as a result, she cannot pursue her constructive wrongful discharge claims; (B) The plaintiff's failure to pursue the administrative remedies available to her serve to bar her assertion of her wrongful discharge claim under § 31-51m; and (C) The plaintiff's statements that led to her alleged discharge were not constitutionally protected speech under § 31-51q.

" Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law . . . In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Vendrella v. Astriab Family Ltd. Partnership, 311 Conn. 301, 313, 87 A.3d 546 (2014).

" In seeking summary judgment, it is the movant who has the burden of showing the nonexistence of any issue of fact. The courts are in entire agreement that the moving party for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue as to all the material facts, which, under applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law. The courts hold the movant to a strict standard. To satisfy his burden the movant must make a showing that it is quite clear what the truth is, and that excludes any real doubt as to the existence of any genuine issue of material fact . . . As the burden of proof is on the movant, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opponent . . . When documents submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment fail to establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party has no obligation to submit documents establishing the existence of such an issue . . . Once the moving party has met its burden, however, the opposing party must present evidence that demonstrates the existence of some disputed factual issue." Romprey v. Safeco Ins. Co. of America, 310 Conn. 304, 319-20, 77 A.3d 726 (2013). " It is not enough, however, for the opposing party merely to assert the existence of such a disputed issue. Mere assertions of fact . . . are insufficient to establish the existence of a material fact and, therefore, cannot refute evidence properly presented to the court under Practice Book [§ 17-45]." Ramirez v. Health Net of the Northeast, Inc., 285 Conn. 1, 11, 938 A.2d 576 (2008).

A) Does a Genuine Issue of Material Fact Exist Regarding the Issue of Whether the Plaintiff Voluntarily Resigned her Position?

The defendant argues that the plaintiff cannot prevail on either of her constructive wrongful discharge claims because she voluntarily resigned her position. The record clearly indicates that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding this issue as the plaintiff claims that Robert Stacy, the defendant's Director of Human Resources, told her to quit or she would be fired (Plaintiff's Deposition Transcript, page 68, lines 4-19) while Mr. Stacy claims that the decision was made not to discipline the plaintiff (Stacy Deposition Transcript, page 63, lines 6-15). As a result, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the plaintiff was constructively discharged and the defendant is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on this issue.

B) Does the Plaintiff's Failure to Pursue the Available Administrative Remedies Serve to Bar her Assertion of her ยง 31-51m ...


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